Lebanon News

Lebanon interior minister defends new Syria visa rules

A Syrian refugee boy sits outside his tent next to his family at a temporary refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese town of Marj near the border with Syria, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk Monday defended the new regulations requiring Syrians traveling to Lebanon to obtain visas, saying they will reduce the number of Syrians in the country.

The controversial measure which went into effect Monday requiring Syrians to obtain one of six visa types - tourist, business, student, transit, short stay or medical - has evoked mixed reactions.

“There are 1.5 million Syrians in Lebanon, among them 1,070,000 are registered as refugees,” Machnouk said in a press conference. “This number is enough, and Lebanon has no ability to receive more refugees.”

However, the door is still open for entering Lebanon for “justified purposes,” he added, giving “work, visit or medical treatment” as examples.

Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, another advocate of the new decision, explained in comments he made Monday how the visas will be granted.

“The decision does not require Syrians to get an entry visa from the Lebanese embassy in Damascus, but will rather be granted on the Lebanese legal crossings,” he told local radio station Voice of Lebanon 93.3.

“The reactions to the measures have been exaggerated more than what they’re worth, because they have been under implementation for a while but in an undisclosed manner,” Derbas added.

The minister said many Syrians have been practicing professions that are restricted for the Lebanese, which will end as the new regulation imposes a work permit and a sponsor for every Syrian worker in Lebanon.

“Syrians should fix their legal status in a period of one month, by getting a one-year work permit in accordance with the kafala system,” he said.

The new General Security measure thus seeks to organize the presence of Syrians in Lebanon by preventing the entry of new ones, and holding a Lebanese citizen responsible for every Syrian worker in the country.

Derbas said the number of registered Syrian refugees was recently reduced from 1,195,000 to 1,100,000 upon an official decision.

He said Lebanon has been very “lenient” with Syrian refugees and offers them a comfortable environment.

“Lebanese authorities are being lenient with all the displaced, and allows them to move in all Lebanese areas, because we are the most welcoming country for them,” he said.

On the other hand, former chief of the General Security Jamil al-Sayyed described the decision as “political.”

“The decision to prevent the entry of Syrians to Lebanon is a political decision,” he told a local radio station also Monday. “This decision should have been consensually made in the Cabinet, and not through a decree issued by the interior minister or the prime minister.”

“This is a violation of the law,” he added, saying he expects the “other ministers” to question how the decision was made.

Sayyed also criticized the practical aspect of the new regulation, saying it was unfeasible because Lebanon is short on General Security officers who are responsible for monitoring the borders.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had acknowledged that the new decision lies within Lebanon’s jurisdiction as a sovereign country, but expressed concern over the many “extreme humanitarian cases” that are brought into the borders every day.

The Social Affairs Ministry in turn answered the concern by assuring that extreme cases will be able to cross the borders and will be exempted from the new restrictions.

 

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